Facing Government Cuts

This past week many industry leaders convened in Washington, D.C. for APTA’s Legislative Conference & Capitol Hill Summit. And from everyone I talked to at the conference and since returning home, it sounds like everyone got a lot of great information and some really good meetings with legislators were had. Meeting with a communications director for a representative on Tuesday, she said she hadn’t seen a line to get into the Rayburn House Office Building in a long time. The line went down the stairs, across the plaza and down the sidewalk. Of course not everyone in line was with transit, but a lot of them were - which was great to see! Monday and Tuesday were a buzz talking about speakers that had been addressing attendees. The conference opened with featured speaker Charlie Cook, a political analyst for NBC News. He has been featured in countless news outlets and has served as a presidential election night analyst for CBS in 1990 and 92 and on NBC for every presidential election since 1994. He gave a good background of what happened in 2010 and what we might expect in 2012 and beyond based on historical analysis and the current climate. He said that we’re looking at a divided government for awhile. And while we all thought we were on the dawn of a new era in public transportation but the new reality from the last couple year’s shows that it’s going to be tougher than we thought. Republicans were voted in to cut the budget and that has changed everything. He posed the question, how serious are the new Republicans about cutting government? “They cut border security funding and you know they didn’t like that.” Cook added, “They may be right, they may be wrong, but they are serious.” Another key point that came up countless times during the sessions was that an association is only as strong as its members. APTA analysts and lobbyists are doing all they can each day, but it takes everyone talking to legislators to inform them of what public transit provides for quality of life, the environment and the economy. At the conference there was a lineup of speakers giving background information, the latest updates, and tips and expert advice on how to make the most of meeting with members of Congress. There were also a variety of handouts available providing statistics showing the key benefits and talking points to guide those new to the process. And for those not able to make it to D.C., those resources are available on their website or by giving them a call. One other great thing to see at the conference was the suppliers that were there to meet with Congress alongside the transit providers. I kept running in to sales people from one bus manufacturer in particular that seemed to send its full force out there to meet with the different agencies it has relationships with to further illustrate the point that this is also about private sector jobs. Would be even better to see more of that from more of the private side. Chatting in an elevator with a VP from Parsons Brinckerhoff, I asked if he had meetings on the Hill this week. He laughed. Then responded, “I don’t, but I do that all year long.” If you can remember your time before transit, when you weren’t in the industry, it looks like a bus or train for other people. “If I’m not on that bus or train, there’s no benefit to me.” Whether you did or didn’t meet with legislators this week, remember what an integral, on-going part of our jobs that is because we need the ongoing support from the community, stakeholders and legislators.